By Bart Bettiga, Executive Director, National Tile Contractors Association
For the next several years, the flooring industry will face a two-headed monster. In reality, this is an issue the whole construction industry must address as well, creating a more urgent need for us to get organized and aggressive in our plans. I am referring, of course, to qualified installers, the need to recruit new people into the trades, and to properly train and certify them.
For many years, dealers and retailers have cited installation as one of the biggest problems they face in running their business. This is not likely to change anytime soon, which is why several industry association leaders who joined the Floorcovering Leadership Council are now working together to develop a plan to address this challenge.
Training vs Certification
In order to develop a confidence level in our trades, it is essential that installer certification programs continue to grow and develop. It is important to note that certification should be a test of physical skills, coupled with proven knowledge of the subject. Although there may be a certain level of training to prepare an installer for a test, it is vital to understand that training installers in a specific task is not certification. It is my hope that under the direction of the Floorcovering Leadership Council, we can find ways to develop synergy together as we strive to develop both training and certification programs.
Recently, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) acquired the Certified Flooring Installer (CFI) organization, adding significant resources and leadership to an already successful initiative. Associations such as the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), Marble Institute of America (MIA), and both the National Tile Council of America (NTCA) and Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) from the tile industry, are actively engaged in training and certification efforts. If we can find a way to utilize resources together, rather than each organization working individually, then we have a real chance to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. We are currently exploring options to do just that and hope to make impactful announcements in 2016.
The Tile Industry
Currently, the CTEF is spearheading certification efforts in the tile trade. The Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program is a one-day test that will assess whether an individual is capable of performing the essential tasks required for successful ceramic tile installations. In order to pass the test, a written exam must be completed and passed. The installer should have at least one year of experience in the field before they prepare for and take the certification exam.
In addition to the CTI test, the tile industry leading organizations that represent both union and non-union labor developed the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installations (ACT) tests. ACT addresses specific skills not included in the CTI test, which gives a project owner, specifier or designer even more confidence in the tile installer’s workmanship. Examples of these skills included waterproofing, shower pans, membrane applications, large format and thin tile installations, and more.
The goal of these two certification programs is to identify the highly skilled people in the trade and get them hired for the appropriate projects. We hope this will encourage other individuals to become certified, and that business owners will invest in their people by sponsoring them to take the test. In order for this to really explode, manufacturers and distributors can make a big difference by recommending or requiring certified installers on their projects. Extended warranties including installation with certified installers is another avenue to be explored.
In order to reach more people quickly, the NTCA has invested in an online learning management system. Other associations are moving quickly on this front as well. Our program went live in the first quarter of 2016, with a limited offering of educational courses currently available, with many more in development. The courses benefit anyone involved in selling, installing, designing or specifying tile and stone. Business courses for the tile contractor are also being offered, as well as continuing education credits for those in need of certification in their respective profession.
Online training will not replace physical skills training, but it is an essential tool to be used by the tile contractor business owner in developing apprenticeship training or to offer additional training to their existing employees. The NTCA is developing a complete apprenticeship program that will complement an in-house training program. It will be approved by the Department of Labor and the association will assist the contractor in submitting the necessary forms and paperwork for approval. We also hope to submit these programs to higher education institutions, like colleges and technical schools etc.
For now, only part of this program is complete, but this should not deter you from getting started in training your crews in this fashion. For more information, go to the NTCA website and click on NTCA University.
Attracting New People
As I stated earlier, other associations in the flooring industry are also developing both online training and physical skills training programs. Many are also offering certifications. We all realize that in order to attract new people into our industry, we must have an established career path with pay scale increases clearly outlined during the process. When this is complete, then we can begin to market and promote the programs to the appropriate groups.
There are many opportunities to develop a career in flooring, and installation is a great place to start for many reasons. Many installers develop into business owners, project managers, sales representatives, superintendents, estimators and more. Others make an outstanding living and truly enjoy being a trained craftsman in their field. One thing is for certain, individuals who choose to enter the flooring industry today will be able to immediately earn income while developing a career. This will be an important and strong message to take to market.